Introduction by Peter Manley Scott
from Modern Believing Vol 53:4


As I write, Danny Boyle's opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics  - titled Isles of Wonder - is receiving plaudits from around the world. Its soundtrack is the best selling album on iTunes in several European countries, and no. 5 in USA. It is not clear whether the opening ceremony contained a strong narrative. Certainly, however, it was a creative effort to celebrate 'Britishness' over the last 300 years.  Perhaps a lack of a strong narrative indicates how elusive 'Britishness' is.  Nor were religious themes absent: 'Jerusalem' and 'Abide with Me' featured prominently.

The essays in this special issue of Modern Believing also address the issue of national identity by considering the matter of patriotism.1 In an effort to pacify and unify, politicians in democracies will appeal  to the values that are - it is claimed - common across a populus. The values cited  include fair play, respect, tolerance, desert, the value of the individual, and freedom.  These values are not the property of the state, nor are they legislated for by government.  Instead, they are - implicitly at least - understood to be prior to legislation and governance.

Conspicuously absent from this list of values is patriotism, love of or devotion to country.  Why should this be? What is it that is presupposed by patriotism that can no longer be assumed?  To be sure, a common object of love or veneration is required by patriotism. For Britain,  such a common object has been provided by a national church, a national culture, and the monarchy.  None of these has the pre-eminence they once did. The standing of the national church has been changed by the development of other religious traditions in the UK, in turn,  raising the question of competing loyalties. A national culture has declined under the pressure  of contrasting nationalisms and other national and religious loyalties. The monarchy has been suborned by a celebrity culture and by the erosion of difference that has been secured  by a democratic ethos.

Nonetheless, a sense of place and a sense of belonging run deep in the culture.  Boyle's Isles of Wonder captured that nicely. Moreover, these senses may not be eroded  - indeed, they may be reinforced - by some of the developments reported in the previous paragraph (nationalism is a good example). In addition, many find themselves adept at negotiating multiple loyalties. Such negotiation may in turn provide a firmer foundation  than heretofore for distinguishing between the nation and the state.

This special issue explores these themes from religious, ethical, social and political perspectives.  It focuses on issues concerning national loyalty, identity and cohesion in order to explore  how these might be understood in a religiously plural and culturally differentiated 'nation'.  Taken together, these articles aim to achieve greater clarity over whether or not the revivification  of patriotism is warranted, and in what ways a revitalised patriotism may differ from past patriotisms.

  1. The articles that follow derive from a conference organised by the Lincoln Theological Institute at the University of Manchester on Saturday 19th May 2012, with its partners: Faith and Public Policy Forum, King's College London, the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, Cambridge, and the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics & Public Policy, University of Oxford.

Peter Scott is Professor of Theology, Ethics & Society  and Director of the Lincoln Theological Institute, The University of Manchester, UK.

Editor's Notes

I am delighted that this edition carries some of the papers presented at the Lincoln Theological Institute conference in Manchester on the theological issues surrounding patriotism. I thank Prof. Peter Scott, Director of the Institute, for his enthusiastic co-operation in the preparation of this edition of Modern Believing, and for his guest editorial.

Modern Believing welcomes new readers to this edition, which will reach everyone who attended the patriotism conference and asked to receive a copy. The journal has been the standard bearer of liberal theology for over a century.  The journal is the journal of Modern Church. Please check out our website, and if you like us, join us. Alternatively you may wish to use the simple application form enclosed with this edition.

I am grateful to Prof. Nigel Biggar for making it possible to reprint his essay 'The Value of Limited Loyalty'. This essay, as readers will agree, is central to all the questions raised in this edition. The edition is a little shorter than planned. Unfortunately one promised article is missing. Max Wind-Cowie, Head  of the Progressive Conservatism Project at Demos and a speaker at the conference,  did not produce his script.

I urge all readers to publicise the Modern Believing  essay competition  which was announced in our July edition. If you are a theology student under 35,  you may be interested in submitting an essay on the theme of the 2013 Modern Church conference,  'The Earth is the Lord's: Renewing the Covenant of Creation'.  If you are a theological tutor or supervisor of research students in this area,  please draw the attention of your students to the competition. The rules of the competition are on the inside of the back cover, and on-line. The closing date  for this year's competition is December 31, 2012.

Publishers know that Modern Believing's team of book reviewers, led by the Reviews Editor, Rev. Dr. Michael Brierley, do an outstanding job in providing constructive, critical, fair and discerning reviews. That is why our list of books received increases in length, and for this edition it runs to a remarkable 109 items! The publication of these titles alone in the 'Books Received' list would run to ten pages, which turn impact on our rising costs of production. For this edition, the 'Books Received' will appear on-line only. No decision has yet been reached about whether our website will be the permanent home of the list.

Adrian Thatcher is Visiting Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter.